Asbestos victims call compensation plan ‘morally bankrupt’

A group representing asbestos victims has attacked a proposal to allow James Hardie to pay compensation in instalments and called it ‘morally bankrupt’.

AAP reports that James Hardie has confirmed the compensation fund for its asbestos victims will probably face a shortfall in the next three years.

The Asbestos Injuries Compensation Fund (AICF) was set up to compensate the victims of James Hardie products.

The AICF board has said that it probably won’t have sufficient funds to pay out claims by 2017. This has come about because the number of claims has increased in recent times.

As a result, the AICF wants to enter into an approved payment scheme to cover the compensation claims. This would mean the company would pay money in instalments, rather than as a lump sum.

Alternatively, the fund says, the lump sum payments could remain if the NSW government increases its loan to the fund from around $214 million to $320 million.

The Asbestos Diseases Foundation of Australia which represents victims has attacked the plan and said James Hardie is responsible and it, not the government, must pay.

"To try to weasel out of putting extra money in, is morally bankrupt in my mind," ADFA president Barry Robson said on Monday.

"They created the problem, they are the ones that came up with this product, they are the ones that made millions and millions of dollars on it, they are killing Australians … they must pay and do it in lump sums, not in instalments."

He added, "Asbestos victims don't die in instalments, they don't lose the ability work or care for themselves in instalments, yet James Hardie wants to see them compensated in that way."

In a statement, James Hardie said it had paid more than $721 million into the fund since 2007. The company confirmed its committment to paying out up to 35 per cent of its net operating cashflow to the fund until at least 2045.

However, the company finds itself in the current position even though it has been able to pay shareholders dividends of almost $600m in the last two years.

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